Clarifying the D.C.-Md. border


An originial Federal Boundary Stone marking the boundary between the District of Columbia and Maryland. The stone was placed between 1791 and 1792 can today be found near the intersection of Western Avenue and Fessenden Street NW. (John Kelly/Washington Post)
John Kelly
Columnist September 15, 2012

Western Avenue is the western boundary of the District of Columbia. Cars parked in the driveways on the western side have Maryland license plates. Just off Western Avenue, near where Park Road meets it on the west and Fessenden meets it on the east, about 20 feet west of the edge of Western Avenue is a boundary stone from 1792 protected by an iron fence and accompanied by a historic marker. Why was the boundary in 1792 approximately 20 feet west of the boundary in 2012?

— Edward Tabor, Bethesda

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Answer Man has consulted the master of the ancient runes. His name is Stephen Powers, an Arlington engineer who every year inspects every one of the remaining 35 stones. (Five stones are missing or marked by replacements.) Said Stephen: “The questioner is incorrect in assuming that Western Avenue is the boundary line.”

The original boundary is the current boundary. It doesn’t follow Western Avenue precisely. Or, rather, Western Avenue doesn’t follow it.


An originial Federal Boundary Stone marking the boundary between the District of Columbia and Maryland. (John Kelly/Washington Post)

“Usually you have a public works right-of-way, an easement or a set back,” Stephen said. ”You don’t put the road right there.”

The boundary runs right through the front lawns of the houses on the Maryland side of Western Avenue. The District is responsible for the street and the curb (and the sidewalk, if there is one), as well as a right of way into the homeowner’s property. The houses themselves are in Maryland and have Maryland addresses. The same applies to the houses on the Maryland side of Eastern Avenue in Silver Spring and Southern Avenue in Prince George’s County.

Stephen noted that what he calls Boundary Stone NW#3 is in the back yard of a homeowner’s lot in Virginia. It designates the separation between Fairfax County and Arlington County (which, remember, was originally part of Washington).

“The homeowner of the lot has to pay property taxes in both counties,” Stephen said. “As such, they are allowed to choose which trash service and which schools they use.”

What’s up, dock?

Springfield’s Bob Schlicht enjoyed last week’s column about Jones Point Park in Alexandria, near the Wilson Bridge.

“Did you notice the neat rudder display?” Bob wrote. “This is an actual wooden rudder found during bridge construction that illustrates the shipbuilding industry that once existed on this site.

“All of the nice Jones Point improvements, including the rudder, bike trail, recreation areas, fishing pier, etc., are the result of the environmental agreements reached when reconstructing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. The bike trail is especially noteworthy because it is above and below the bridge and connects the Virginia side to the Maryland side at National Harbor. The highway agencies from Virginia, Maryland and D.C. should be given credit for an excellent job.”

Not so fast with the praise, writes Bruce Roberts of Alexandria. He recently launched his kayak from Belle Haven Marina and was eager to paddle to Jones Point, then get out and walk around.

“I was disappointed when I could not find a place to beach my kayak,” Bruce wrote. “Huge boulders shield the lighthouse grounds from the Potomac. So I paddled around the corner to the new floating dock under the Wilson Bridge with hopes of tying up there. The dock, although nice and new, is way too high for a kayaker to use. Is the National Park Service going to provide a convenient place to access the water at Jones Point?”

Yes, said Kate Barrett, the park service’s landscape architect for Jones Point. The park plan always included canoe and kayak access, but the contractor installed a floating dock that is simply too high for paddlers to get on and off of. Kate said they’re looking at several fixes, one of which would be to attach a kayak launch to the dock on the downstream side.

As for constructing a beach, Kate says that would be a long, involved process, requiring permissions from several agencies. Don’t hold your breath.

When might a kayak launch be installed?

“I’m sure they want to be done with this project ASAP,” Kate said. “It’s been a long haul.” However, she said, there is no estimate on when the park will be accessible to boaters in kayaks and canoes.

Send your questions about the Washington area to answerman@
washpost.com. No salesman will call.

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